All good things come to an end. That includes the weather. Our recent run of scorching weather came to an abrupt halt sometime last week. Don’t ask me which day it was as I never know what day it is now. Whatever, the rain came. The tranquil scenes along the Danube went from this…….
…..and we were van bound for a few days. Did we get out on that nice easy scenic cycle? Nope. Did we do any amazingly scenic walks? Nope. Did we see any interesting sights? Nope. Well, maybe a few.
With plenty of time on our hands the wonders of the internet are always welcome to keep us busy with all our little projects that get our undivided attention when rain stops play. Queue the Rewe supermarket chain.
We’d discovered their supermarkets have free wifi. And, joy of joys, it reaches the van in the carpark. Excellent. The excitement, chez Ollie, was palpable! We wiled away a happy few hours a day at the Rewe supermarket carpark surfing and downloading to our hearts content. Ah, but not just the same carpark everyday. Oh no. To keep it all fresh and exciting we went to a different Rewe supermarket in a different town each day. Yep, we sure know how to live. To pay Rewe back for their hospitality and lovely superfast free wifi we did do our daily shop there. It’s a win-win.
But with the scorching hot weather now restored let’s cut to the chase on what we are up to now. We arrived a few days ago at our latest Helpx assignment deep in eastern Bavaria. Oh, this is a bucket list item this one. Well, it is for me. We’ve gone from Donkey HQ to Dairy HQ and we are now at Alpaca HQ! When first discovering what Helpx , Workaway, and Wwoofing was all about a few years ago, Donkeys and Alpacas were right up there on my list of ‘fun’ animals to get up close and personal with so to speak. They had to feature during our travels. So here we are with the Lindforst Alpaca Team. I think there are about thirty seven of them but over the coming weeks we’ll get to know them better and learn all about caring for them.
So, without further ado, I’ll introduce you to the ‘Lindforst Alpaca Team’.
In the coming weeks you’ll get to meet more of them.
We are back on the road again now after our final week on the dairy farm passed by in a flash. In all we spent nearly four weeks with the Bayers and learnt heaps about the trials and tribulations of farming life. It was a steep learning curve and although the work was hard we are very grateful to the Bayer family for sharing their lives with us for the short time that we were there. I think I now have a new found respect for our farmers, particularly those who have gone down the organic route, which doesn’t seem to me to be the easy route at all.
We’ve experienced, for a short while at least, life in a traditional German rural village. We’ve eaten piles and piles of home grown and home cooked hearty traditional German food. In the time we were with the Bayers we had a different lunch everyday – Ilse has a huge repertoire of meals that puts me to shame and nothing went to waste. Homemade spätzle (a type of noodle), kartoffel salat (potato salad), pancakes, different types of bratwurst, soups, goulash with pasta, home-reared roast beef, beef stew, homemade pizza, fried egg and chips(!), bread and vegetable pudding, roast chicken, a type of sweet bread, homemade jams, cakes and yoghurt and lots of other things that I can’t remember. We also consumed our own body weight in bread. With the amount of physical work we did we should have left a few pounds lighter but with all the hearty food we had we were on a losing battle.
Oh, and what about the language? As it turned out both Gerd and Martin (sons) spoke very good English but the small amount of German we learnt in the week before we arrived did make a huge difference especially when working with Ilse in the kitchen and out in the fields. I think I’ve improved a little bit since arriving (ein bischen!). Having only done German for two terms at secondary school and only being able to remember how count to twelve, say ‘ich heisse Jane’ and ‘eine banane’ I was pretty much stating from zero. It did prove to me that with a bit of effort I can achieve more than I thought I could in a short space of time and I’m going to try to keep going with it. Next time we are in Spain I’m also going to do the same and make a start on that too so then I’ll have three languages I can’t speak!
Besides the cow care and the thistle clearing we’ve topped up water tanks, done some tractor work, helped with the harvesting, cleaned, cleared, strimmed, fenced, helped make silage, painted, picked berries, weeded vegetable patches, planted seeds, cooked, made jams and made cakes.
We’ve enjoyed spending time with the many other helpers from different countries to learn from and share stories and ideas with.
Seeing milk production from the grass roots level has certainly opened my eyes to the whole process. It’s kind of shattered my image of happy go lucky cows chewing the cud in the fields with the sun on their backs slowly ambling in to the milking parlour twice a day. Mmm, not quite.
The majority of dairy cows these days spend much of their lives inside as there is no requirement to offer outdoor pasture areas. The stipulation for organic dairy cows, though, is that they have to have access to pasture whenever conditions allow. Organic cows are also fed on a grass rich, GM free diet, and the use of antibiotics is banned but average yields are around thirty per cent less than for the more intensive methods. Suffice to say that seeing the whole process from calf to dairy cow the lot of the organic dairy cow is better than those that are more intensively farmed but by no means wonderful. It’s definitely made me think more about what I will be buying at the supermarket in the future.
Anyway, on that cheery note what are we up to now? Well, we spent last weekend relaxing on a free stellplatz by the river Tauber near Weikersheim. We were tired and needed a few days of rest and relaxation before continuing on our travels.
Unfortunately, it was roasting hot (in the 30’s) so we didn’t feel that rested after the weekend! It’s the first time on our travels that the heat really affected me and I felt I had no energy whatsoever. Fortunately, though, I was able to cool down by swimming in the river just a few steps away from the stellplatz which was very welcome.
After all the thistle clearing we had done in the few days before we left Dairy HQ our hands had practically seized up with no grip at all. After four days I knew things were improving when I just about managed to squeeze the toothpaste to the top of the tube. Well, ok, that is a slight exaggeration but it’s not far off.
We are now loosely following ‘The Romantic Road’. Apparently it is Germany’s best known and most popular holiday route taking in all that is traditionally German from walled medieval towns to fairy-tale castles and Rococo churches. It starts in Würzberg and continues in a southerly direction down to Füssen in the Alps. We picked it up in Weikersheim and we will continue south until the end or until we get Romantic Road burn out. The burn out is bound to happen as we experienced it before last year in France with all the Bastide towns we visited. So, we’ll see how it goes.
So what has been happening down on the dairy farm in the last ten days? In a word…….lots. It is certainly hard work here and you don’t get to sit down for too long. We’ve been on the go seven days a week with various different jobs to do. Two barns have been sorted, cleared, swept and the rubbish taken to the tip. What is it about farms that they accumulate so much stuff?
Some of the cows have been on the move in the mobile pen to different pastures.
If you don’t own a lawnmower then a cow is probably the next best thing as half a dozen of them will clear a two acre field of lush long grass in just a few days leaving it looking like a barren wasteland. They do, however, leave their mark so to speak.
Tim got to play with some more boys toys (well not really, he was in charge of a shovel) on a busy scorching hot day whilst a mixture of grass, corn and wheat was harvested which will be used for feeding the cows. Four large tractors and trailers were used for the job with other farmers pooling their resources to help get the job done. Once cut, the grain was pumped into a giant airtight pvc sausage where it will ferment for at least six weeks before being fed to the cows.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Ilsa (Mum Bayer), had a birthday party to prepare for last Saturday. Thirty people were expected for a barbecue on the Saturday evening so it was all hands to the pumps in the kitchen in preparation. Picking, gathering, washing, peeling, chopping, boiling, steaming, weighing, mixing, blending, whipping, baking, stirring, marinating, tasting…….the list was endless. Ilsa co-ordinated everything in the kitchen with aplomb but it took seven hours of furious work to get all the food prepared.
It was a shame for Ilsa that it was actually her own birthday that she was preparing everything for. If I was her I’d be insisting that next year I be taken out instead!
Gerd (son Bayer) and other helpers had made the area at the back of the barn look amazing with table cloths and home grown flowers on every table and fairy lights draped around the perimeter of the garden.
The following day the village had their annual street festival with traditional German food, beer, cakes, theatre, archery and music.
It’s the first street party I’ve been to since the Queens Silver Jubilee in 1977 when I was nine!
Tim was asked to play in the little church before one of the villagers gave a talk on the history of Rüsselhausen church.
A documentary about the farm and the Bayer family is currently being made and a cameraman and interviewer were at the house for the weekend filming what was going on.
I got to do some strimming before I was dispatched off with Ilsa to the supermarket. It wasn’t until we came out of the supermarket that I realised my legs below the knees were completely green from the strimming with a tide mark where my socks had been. Doh! Fortunately I’m not well known here.
Another first for Tim was changing the oil on the tractor. It’s not often he gets his hands dirty these days and normally avoids it at all costs but, well, the tractor is more interesting than the bikes I suppose!
The swallows have been bringing up their young in the cow barn and it looks like they are now almost ready to fledge.
All in all, then, a busy time and we have aching muscles where we didn’t even know we had muscles but we’ll feel all the better for it………….won’t we?
So, once again behind with the blog. I had intended putting out a blog post just before we started our 6thHelpx but alas it never happened. The German learning kind of took over as I wanted to get through the whole of the Michel Thomas Foundation German before starting on our current Helpx and my brain can only cope with one thing at a time these days.
Time was getting on though as we had been lingering along the Moselle for over a week. It was time to carry on up to Koblenz and swing a right onto the Rhine. The sixty five kilometre stretch between Koblenz and Rüdesheim, known as the middle Rhine, is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Although much busier than the Moselle, with a railway line on both sides of the river, it does boast more castles sitting on hillsides overlooking the Rhine. We based ourselves for a few days at a Stellplatz in Bacharach, a very pretty small medieval town.
I think the best way to ‘do’ the Rhine is by boat though as the cycleway is adjacent to the busy road and railway line and it’s not as relaxing as cycling alongside the Moselle.
After kicking back for a week on the Rhine cramming our heads with German we arrived at our latest Helpx. We are staying at a dairy farm near Markelsheim in the Baden-Württemberg region learning all about cows and crops.
The Bayer family has farmed here I think for five generations and are in the process of changing over to organic status. They should have their organic status by next year and they are the only organic farm in this area. The farm is in a little village four kilometres away from Markelsheim set in a valley with rolling countryside all around. Every child in the village seems to have their own toy sit-on tractor so very much a farming community.
We’ve been here for over a week now working alongside Mum and Dad Bayer, their two grown up sons, an aussie helper, an American helper, two French helpers and Siegfried the family mascot who isn’t related to the Bayers but who came to live and work at the farm in his early twenties over fifty years ago. There are also two Polish guys doing some building work and alterations to the cow enclosures.
We’ve had a full on first week with a huge variety of jobs to do. We’ve helped out with all things cow related like feeding, mucking out, milking, moving cows to different pastures, fencing and the feeding of the calves.
Tim also helped with the birth of a calf which I completely missed as I’d nipped back in to the kitchen to do the washing up. It was a bit of a drama with the calf having to be pulled into the world with a piece of rope tied around its back legs. All very James Herriot!
Tim has done lots of boy stuff like riding around in the tractor, cleaning one of the barns and cleaning the bathrooms!
I’ve been helping Mum Bayer in the kitchen making jams and cooking for everyone on the wood fired range which is no mean feat with the numbers to cater for. It’s a military operation in that kitchen.
I am in awe of the amount of work that everyone does here. Aside from the cows the family have 120 acres of crops, some of which need weeding as, being organic, no pesticides can be used. We’ve been out in the fields pulling up thistles trying to clear them before they flower which has been back breaking work. If they have flowered they need to be hoiked out and then carried out of the field otherwise there will be even more next year.
It is something that needs to be done though whilst converting to organic status and should reduce year on year with the crops rotating but it will always be a continual headache for organic farmers. The bed in the room we are in is very low to the floor and I have had to roll out of it in the mornings onto my hands and knees!
I will never. Ever. Ever. Ever. E.v.e.rrrrrr. again complain about clearing the small patch of weeds at the front of our house back in Wiltshire. NOT EVER! In comparison, I would now see that job as a bit of light entertainment. Even though it has been hard work it has also been very satisfying being out in the countryside in the sunshine on a completely still evening listening to the skylarks singing above us and seeing the end results of a clean field.
So that’s it folks, our first week down on the farm. More next week if we survive!
Ok, so long time no blog post! It’s fair to say I’ve left myself somewhat lacking on the blog front over the past few weeks and have left my multitude (aka – handful) of readers in the lurch so to speak. Desculpe meus amigos!!
So, where are we? We are currently parked up on the cliffs above Monte Clerigo beach, just outside Aljezur, Portugal watching the surf roll in whilst the rain comes and goes in waves. Our time at Donkey HQ came to an end yesterday after eight donkey filled weeks and we were sad to leave but also ready to continue with our travels.
When we first embarked on our fifth Helpx assignment we didn’t think for a minute that we would stay for as long as we have but we had such an enjoyable time there that the weeks just went on by without us noticing too much.
We so enjoyed looking after all the donkeys and getting to know all their different characters. Romano, the wise old grandaddy.
Margarida, Miss Greedy.
None too bright Olivia – unfortunately I don’t seem to have aphoto of her:(
Xiquito, Olivia’s shadow.
Cheeky Emilio with the most beautiful ears.
Elfrieda, Martha and Isadora, the guest donkeys, or ‘Algarve 3’ as I’ve been calling them. Still sticking together and working as a team even after nearly two months at donkey HQ.
Jeco, the stoic little guy.
Xico, aka gnasher!
Steady Emil and friendly, inquisitive Falco.
And last but not least, and my all round personal favourite, Margalhaes now renamed Kali as no-one could remember or pronounce his name!
Sofia is passionate about her donkey family giving them a life that most donkeys in Portugal and around the world could only dream of.
They are so well cared for and it was a privilege to be able to be a part of their lives and routines for the time we were there.
Madan, our Nepalese housemate, has taught us much about Nepal and Nepalese cooking and we’ve enjoyed getting to know him. We now have Nepal on our list to visit in the future!
We also mustn’t forget the hospitality Sofia’s parents, Raban and Nelly, have shown us sharing stories of their colourful lives with us. Their zest for life at 81 years old is inspirational.
The small community we have experienced here has been one of neighbours helping and looking out for each other sharing ideas, skills, machinery, equipment and time.
It has been a fantastic learning experience for us and we are leaving with very happy memories and would definitely like to return in the future.
So, Kali says goodbye and wishes us safe travels on he next chapter of our journey wherever it will take us 🙂
Mmm, where to start? We’ve had a whirlwind of a week which has, once again, shot past. For the past eight days we have, along with Madan, our fellow Helpxer, been holding the fort here at Donkey HQ, up a lane, near Aljezur, Portugal.
When we originally talked about housesitting being a part of our travels I never expected our charges to be thirteen donkeys. Dogs, cats, maybe a few chickens or the odd rabbit yes, but donkeys, well, no. But that is what we have been doing for the last eight days as Sofia, Raban and Nelly flew off to sunny Paris last Thursday to spend Christmas with other members of their family.
We were a little bit daunted when the idea was mooted, a couple of weeks ago, that we could look after the house, donkeys, dog and cats whilst the family were away with lots of questions going through our minds. What if they get out? What if one has an accident? What if we get the feeding wrong? What if they throw an all night party? Or invite friends over through Facebook and everything is trashed? What if, what if, what if……?!
It has, however, been almost completely stress free and a pleasure to look after them all. We’ve only had a couple of incidents. Olivia was missing in action on Tuesday at the morning roll call. Tim and I split up to go and look for her and I heard her before I saw her as she was calling to the others. She’d managed to get her leg caught between the barbed wire on the fence in the bottom field. I don’t think she can have been trapped for too long as there wasn’t a mark on her. She just let me lift her leg up and out onto the right side of the fence and then went skipping off to regroup with the others.
Then yesterday morning we had an escapee. Well, it wasn’t exactly the great escape as she’d only gone a few steps from the field to the big pile of straw in the barn and was busy gorging herself! She was, nonetheless, free range and could have gone on a joyride in the car should she have so desired! It was one of the new ones, either Martha or Elfrieda, I still don’t know which is which. We’re still not sure how she got out but think she got through the bungey fence by the barn which is electrified. We’ve already had to put another bungey up at the far end of the field as she managed to limbo under the higher one! I think the three new donkeys are working as a team and plotting something. Them donkeys is organised! They seem to be one step ahead of us (not difficult).
So, all in all, the donkey care has gone extremely well and they all seem to be content. They’ve all been groomed up and look lovely until they then go and have a roll in the sandpit! Only Chico, or I should spell it Xico (he put me right on the spelling!), hasn’t been groomed as he has a mouth full of big teeth and he’s not afraid to use them! He caught me the other day on my thigh (through the trousers) leaving a cut and big bruise so we are a bit wary of him. Tim always keeps the wheel barrow between Xico and himself as a mode of self defence!
It’s like living on a safari park with all their chat though. Tim managed to record some of their conversations which will hopefully upload here.
Aside from the donkeys, Madan has been the dog and cat daddy for the week and sorted them out with feeding and the like whilst Tim and I have enjoyed having them as company in the evenings.
Christmas has obviously come and gone but we did make an effort on Christmas day to create as near to a traditional christmas lunch as we could for Madan, but sans the sprouts, as we couldn’t get any, and a chicken instead of turkey. I was pretty chuffed with my giant Yorkshire Pudding which came out a treat.
The gas oven here is a bit temperamental so it was touch and go on the YP front!
We’ve had time to cycle to the nearest beach which is about eight kilometres away and nearly all downhill on the way back.
Madan has cooked some epic food which I’m trying, and failing, to emulate. He manages to create such intense flavours from just a few ingredients.
I’m picking up quite a few tips from him and will be joining him for a ‘Madan Masterclass’ sometime soon to learn the secret of how he does it.
We are now looking forward this next week to a few days off to explore the area a bit more once Sofia returns.